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#BobPatNation: The story behind the Montana State University bookstore icon

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Pat Rule, MSU Bookstore

Pat Rule checks out students at the Montana State University Bookstore on campus Sept. 9, 2021. Rule has been working at the bookstore for 14 years.

It all started with a meme posted in February to an Instagram page dedicated to all things Montana State University. The concept was simple: the lady at the bookstore that brightens the day of each student she interacts with.

In the seven months since, that one photo has morphed into a weekly Monday video series with viewers from around the country, multiple hashtags, stickers seen throughout Bozeman and an outpouring of appreciation for the woman who has worked at the university bookstore for the past 14 years, greeting everyone with unflagging kindness, enthusiasm and warmth.

To the people who know Pat Rule — known around campus simply as Pat — the almost-viral reaction that has spun out from that post is due to who she is and her interactions with anyone who walks through the MSU bookstore.

“She’s so sweet and she has so much personality. She just makes your day so much brighter,” said freshman Ameilia Skinkis, after purchasing a #MondayWithPat sticker at the bookstore one afternoon. “… She really cares, it’s not like the fake customer service. She really wants to know how you’re doing.”

Pat Rule, MSU Bookstore

Pat Rule checks out students at the Montana State University Bookstore on campus Sept. 9.

At her register, Pat greats each student with a smile, talks with them about their purchases and makes a personal connection with each person.

“She’s always super vivacious,” said Matt Waldum, a senior. “We need more people with upbeat personalities, especially in the times that we’re going through in the country.”

For Pat, she’s taken this newfound fame in stride. One minute she’s reflecting on the students behind the virality and the next she’s enthusiastically and genuinely expounding on the quality art supplies available at the bookstore and the new line of outdoors gear and apparel

“It’s been a riot,” Pat said. “But the kids thought it all up. This was all student-driven and such a surprise.”

It was the pages and pages of comments from students describing their own interactions with Pat that inspired MSU bookstore to start Mondays with Pat, where the friendly cashier, often with a bejeweled mask on, shares a short message of encouragement each week.

“It’s really what started everything because on social media Pat is just herself and has a nice little message because being a student is hard and she just goes ‘You can do it,’ every Monday, and everybody loves it,” said Hailey Teeter, marketing and website coordinator for the bookstore.

Not only is Pat a hit with the students, but MSU parents feel a connection to her too.

“Honest to goodness, some of the parents that came through here in the beginning (of the semester) to get books, it was delightful,” Pat said of interacting with the parents who already knew who she was via Instagram and TikTok.

She has been recognized at the grocery store, and she has even found her way to Antarctica. A former MSU student recently took a job there and brought a Pat sticker with him.

“I told him to go to the Instagram and Mondays with Pat, he can see me and kind of feel like he’s at home again,” she said.

Pat Rule, MSU Bookstore

Students made stickers of Pat Rule that are for sale next to her cash register in the MSU Bookstore.

Throughout the past few months, students have been a part of it, from generating ideas like #BobPatNation to a letter-writing campaign pushing for Pat to receive the Pure Gold award, which honors contributions to the university and is distributed by the Office of the President.

“That was certainly out of the blue, I was just tickled to have stickers,” Pat said. “… I was so surprised, I wasn’t expecting that. The Pure Gold, I was very honored to be amongst those that were before me.”

She was hopeful the rumors were true that the award includes a meal with President Waded Cruzado, Pat said with a laugh.

The bookstore has been deliberate in what they sell in relation to Pat, trying not to over-merchandise the situation, said Chad Schreier, CEO of the MSU Bookstore.

To date, there have been a handful of stickers, most recently one that only has Pat’s trademark thick eyeliner winging out and up. T-shirts are on the horizon and a line of Halloween related products are in the works for October.

Pat Rule, MSU Bookstore

Pat Rule has worked at the MSU Bookstore for 14 years and has become well-known for her cat-eye makeup.

“It is funny to drive around town and see the stickers on cars now,” Schreier said.

It’s Pat’s genuine care for people at the register that has inspired and sustained the interest, he said.

“We’re not using it to really sell. What we’re doing it is to bring everybody in because they all know me,” Pat said.

The merchandise and weekly videos have been more about building outreach and including the students in the goings-on of the store, she said.

“We just want the students to feel they’re a part of their store because they are student owners and the more included they feel, the more likely the are to be excited about their store,” Teeter said.

For Pat, it’s all about the students and always has been. It’s been “the thrill of a lifetime” to see students grow throughout their college career, she said.

“I sure try to make everyone feel at home,” Pat said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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